iPod Synchronization techniques

Wherever I go, my iPod nano goes. With a “smaller” disk like on the nano, it’s sort of important to make sure you are carrying the tracks you’ll want to hear. I have a couple of smart playlists, and leave the rest to iTunes. Syncing takes less than a minute, is fully automatic and I’m very happy with the results every time.

Smart PlaylistsSome people may be interested in how I organized this, so they can use some of these ideas themselves. On the left, you can see the smart playlists I use to fill my 8GB nano. I have placed these in a seperate folder to seperate them from all the other playlists I use to manage my iTunes collection with.

Then there is the smart naming of the lists. Try to name your smart playlists so you can tell how they’re built and what they contain. Looking at my lists, you can tell I only have 3 star rated songs and up on my iPod, unread books, and a seperate list containing tracks I haven’t played or rated yet.

As you can see my playlists are based on ratings. This is a personal choice, and only works on a good rating convention. To be able to build reliable lists based on ratings, try to conform yourself to rules. Mine are:

  • 1 Star rating: Never,ever play this track again. It sucks bigtime, or can’t even be qualified as music. By doing this trick, you I effectively “delete” tracks right from the rating screen while playing a track. In iTunes I can later easily delete them when diskspace becomes a problem, but for how I keep them to keep my albums complete.
  • 2 Star rating: Not too good, don’t play these too often. 2 star songs are currently not even transferred to my iPod.
  • 3 Star rating: This song is okay, I could listen to a radio station all day if it played songs with 3 star ratings
  • 4 Star rating: This is a good enough song to sit down to listen to. I can play it 2 times in a row without getting bored
  • 5 Star rating: If I had a single-song-ipod this track would be on it, and I would wear out the battery before putting another song on there. Effectively a “must have” song wherever I go.

3 Star Radio playlist

Translated: Rating is larger than 2 stars, limit to 2GB in size, select least recently played.

Above, you can see the 3 star radio trick. I found this idea on the web somewhere, and I liked it so I copied it, and added the size limitation. The playlist contains all 3 and more Stars rated songs, and is limited to 2 GB. Songs I played are swapped out during synchronization for ones I haven’t heard for a while. The nice thing is that 4 Star rated songs in this list will also be in the 4 Star Radio list, but will only physically be on the iPod once. iTunes will never, ever physically put 2 instances of the same song on your iPod.

This is also the reason I can have 4 playlists of 2GB in size, plus some audiobooks and some other stuff (photo’s) on my 8GB iPod. The 3, 4 and 5 star playlists don’t add up 6 GB together, but far less because of the double tracks in there.

Never played or rated

Translated: Playcount is 0, and rating is less than 1 star, limit to 2GB in size, randomly selected.

To be able to listen to new songs in your library and rate them, you’ll need a playlist like this one. It’s called “Never played (2GB)” and contains songs I have never heard and never rated. I rate most songs on my iPod, because it’s within reach when listening to music. I use iTunes to stream music to the living room, and I’m not at the screen then so it’s harder to rate songs that way. Nice thing about this list and the rating scheme I use is that 1 or 2 star songs are efectively deleted from my iPod. They don’t show up in the playlists, and during synchronisation they are physically removed from the iPod to never return again.

Audiobook playlist

Translated: Genre is Audiobook, Playcount is 0, limit to 5 items, select least recently added.

Then there are the audiobooks. I only actually have 1 I think, but this playlist makes sure I listen to my audiobooks in order of purchase. It puts the oldest 5 un”read” books on my iPod. Small disadvantage is that audiobooks need to have their genre set to “Audiobook” for this to work. I haven’t found a trick to select audiobooks based on their extension (m4b) yet. Encoding type could work, but I also have AAC music tracks I bought in the iTunes store so the playlist would contain those aswell.

Next to the playlists above I have an important (dumb) playlist called “iPod musthaves”. This is a normal playlist, and any track I want on my iPod no matter what, I drag in there. I also have some lists called “blues” and “easy listening” but I don’t use them that much.

The only thing which is not really perfect is the way I handle genres. Hardrock is next to classical music rightnow. I tried to get the genres right, but found that the whole “genre” idea does not apply to modern music. “Bluesy Rock” and “Rocky Blues” are overlapping genres, and are not usable to select tracks based on tempo or feeling. I have used Tangerine to analyse the BPM of my tracks, but that still did not help.

No more GenresTo clean things up, I totally removed all crappy genre information from my library. Only a few very clear to identify songs with wierd genres I left to be able to find quicly. Proof is on the left. The information was indeed so crappy that I don’t mis it a single day.

What I do mis is the ability to find music grouped by “mood” or “energy” or “tempo”. In comes Moody (currently OSX only, Windows version in the making), a free iTunes plugin which allows to tag your tracks based on “Tempo” and “Energy”. You can then build smart playlists based on tempo and mood ranges. I’ve tried this on 30 or so tracks and it looks very promising. I hope I can find the time to mood tag a larger portion of my iTunes library. Trouble is that I can’t do that on my iPod.

To end this rather lengthy post, I can only encourage you to find your own “plan” or “system”, and translate that into smart playlists. This way iTunes “knows” what you want, and you’ll be surprised about the great music you have in your library without knowing it. And if that’s not enough, you can listen to your free podcasts for the daily news, music mixes or themed radio station.

Recommended podcasts:
The Java Posse. Java Programming news.
macBreak Weekly, Mac news and roundtable discussion
CAZ Weekend mix podcaz, 1 hour dance hits mix
Photoshop TV (DUTCH, VIDEO)

Have fun!


6 Responses to iPod Synchronization techniques

  1. […] I have a 8GB nano and it stores more than enough music to listen to in between syncs. Just use really smart playlists and iTunes will take care of it for […]

  2. […] to take at least one or to movies with you on your iPhone. If your music is in the way, you can use these tips to make iTunes organize your music for […]

  3. John J says:

    While trying to clean up my computer, I inadvertently wiped all of the songs from my iPod page. I now have 2000 songs on my iPod, and was wondering if there was any way of getting these back into my computer? I don’t want to synchronize and lose the lot!!

    Thanks for advice.

  4. rolfje says:

    If you have a PC, you can try this:

    If you have a Mac, you can fins all info here:

    It seems that the latter link is more informative and has a more “mac like” way of doing things. Please note that I did not try any of these, your mileage may vary.

    Good luck, hope this works.

  5. John J says:

    Thanks rolfje!! It worked – I’m forever indebted to you!!

    Regards, JJ

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